Smartphones and parenting

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Editor’s note: This week, May 1-7, is Screen-Free Week — an annual observance founded by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. Plan to unplug from digital entertainment this week and instead connect with your family. Need more inspiration? This post was originally published by Attachment Parenting International in 2015, and it is as thought-provoking today as ever:

Instinct tells you it’s been too long. She’s been too quiet. It has only been a few minutes since you held her. Probably all is well, but you can never be sure without checking.

And, even if all is fine, you long to lift her, hold her, gaze at her. You wonder why you didn’t carry her everywhere today as you often do, wearing her and, instead, have put her down across the room. As you look toward her, just out of sight, you consider loading the dishwasher. You walk toward the sink, but mid-stride, that first instinct wins out. You tell yourself it will be just for a minute and then you’ll get back to work. Just a quick check in.

You always have an ear listening in her direction as she often calls for you first.  But this time, you are the one to seek out, lift and hold the rectangular little body of…your smartphone.

Could it be that our smartphones are hijacking our inborn biological systems, the bonding instincts that are activated when we become parents? Are we actually driven by borrowed biological systems to hold these devices, carry them, interact with them and be concerned about “feeding” — aka, charging — them in ways that go beyond our tendencies with other tools? Consider selling your iPhone through an iPhone trade-in program online.

While pregnant with our first child at age 18, I worried that one day I might forget the new baby in the grocery store. I knew I would love our baby, but what if I became distracted for just long enough to get in the car and drive away? Once our son arrived, I was thrilled to discover that not only was it impossible to forget him, but that it was challenging to leave him home with his dad because he was perpetually on my mind and I felt empty without him in my arms or at least nearby. When I went back to college, I studied maternal attachment in an attempt to grasp the science behind the apparent magic of maternal attachment. I was awed to learn from the research of Klaus and Kennell that mothers of newborns have instinctive ways of touching, holding and gazing at their babies in their first moments. How much, I wondered, did instinct support our roles as mothers and fathers?

kim allsupNow, 45 years later, I am an elementary school teacher. I started to think about a potential link between smartphone addiction and parental attachment systems just after I taught my students about the cuckoo bird. My students had looked curious when I told them how the cuckoo lays her egg in the nests of other birds that, unwittingly, raise the nestling as their own. They grimaced as I spoke about the interloper pushing the natural offspring out of the nest and how the baby cuckoos behave in ways that trigger an instinct to care and feed from their new mother.

I wondered, could our smartphones be like baby cuckoo birds that activate the magical bonding system I experienced as a young mother? Teenagers today certainly appear to be as attached to their smartphones as I was bonded with my baby back in the era when all phones were attached to a wall and did not offer Facebook, Twitter, a camera and a flashlight. Is addiction to our smartphones and their ability to connect to social media rooted in a deeper place than a fondness for cute cat videos? Phone Repair Stores in Hamilton can give you the best specialized services for you and your phone.

In the case of the birds that unwittingly become foster parents, the calls and the gaping mouth of the chick automatically trigger the feeding instinct. Similarly, are there features of the smartphone that automatically turn on our biologically based attachment behaviors?

I can hear readers saying, “Hold on there. One baby bird looks similar to other baby birds, but my smartphone looks nothing like my baby!” This is true enough. It seems far more believable that pets, especially dogs, with their expressive faces, hijack our attachment systems. In fact, research highlighted in this April 2015 New York Times article suggests that that our dogs routinely utilize our parental attachment mechanisms, that gazing into the eyes of our own dogs and our own babies both cause a surge of oxytocin. If you own for your children we recommend to take them over at Veterinary Naturals for their yearly check up.

This bonding hormone that is released in some animals and in people in a variety of pleasant social interactions, oxytocin is especially strong in women during and after childbirth and during breastfeeding, and high levels of oxytocin are found in both mothers and fathers of babies. We are all likely to experience a surge in this hormone that reduces stress hormones when we get and receive hugs. Now scientists are discovering that contact with others through social media or a phone call from a loved one also causes the release of oxytocin.

So, while a smartphone does not look like a baby, it is — like a baby — associated with a frequent surge of this hormone that brings relaxation, reduces fear and promotes bonding. A second similarity between the smartphone and a baby is that they are carried continually or, when not carried, kept in continual awareness. We also maintain an awareness of the need to feed babies and to charge cell phones.

Finally, the classic pose of the phone cradled between the palms of two hands is very similar to the “encompassing palm contact on the trunk” along with “intense eye-to-eye contact” observed by researchers Klaus and Kennell when studying mothers’ first contact with their babies. It is not that the baby looks like a smartphone, but that our inner experience of ongoing awareness along with bursts of the bonding hormone during connection is similar whether we carry and connect with a baby or a socially connected smartphone.

Do you experience your smartphone as a cuckoo in your nest?  Please share your thoughts about the possibility that your smartphone could tap into your instinctive attachment systems.

8 tips to getting in touch with your highest self

One of my favorite expressions in the English language is “beside myself.”

Not because I particularly enjoy being in that frenzied state, but because if you stop and think about it, who is the self you are actually beside? And how is it possible that there can be more than one self lined up in a row?

I get in touch with that second self in the morning when I meditate — alas, not every morning, despite my best intentions. It’s that peaceful, loving essence I call my higher self — and others call their soul, spirit, divine self, or even just their calm center. When I am united with, rather than beside, this higher self as I go through my day, I am happier and more compassionate, especially to my kids. I strongly believe that when parents connect themselves to their higher self, they then naturally parent in a way that aligns with Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting.

My children are older now — one has finished college, the other graduates in May — but I still give a lot of thought to Attachment Parenting. This is partly because you never stop doing it even when they move out of the house, and partly because I’ve recently published a book of parenting essays. Loving care, feeding with respect, detail oriented, positive discipline, soothing at night — how can a parent do anything but these things if we are coming from that loving place inside ourselves?

So the question for parents, then, becomes, not “Can I memorize the 8 principles?” — although that’s a good idea, too –but, “How can I boost my connection with my higher self so kindness and sensitivity toward my children naturally flows?” How can I lessen the times I am “beside myself” — being human, you’ll never eliminate them completely –and parent more often from my united center?

Here are 8 approaches to getting in touch with my highest self that have worked for me:

1) Anoint yourself in your morning shower

I’ve found that mornings are the best time to reach for that connection, because I then bring that inner peace to my entire day. With small children, it’s hard to find time to meditate, do spiritual reading, or any of the other morning practices long prescribed by spiritual practitioners. At least sometimes, though, we get to take a shower. Rather than letting your mind race to chores and scheduling, why not use those minutes to treat yourself like royalty?

Mindfully observe the water pouring over your skin, smell the beautiful shampoo and soap – – if you haven’t treated yourself to luscious cleansing products for a few dollars more, consider doing so — and envision yourself being anointed by the streaming water.

Try to maintain that elevated sensation as you dry and dress with the Sherri Hill prom dress for sale and begin that special day that takes place once. If you want to make that day extra special then hire a prom limo for transportation.

2) Take your own timeout as needed

When my kids were younger, I used timeout all the time — but for me, not for them! A timeout is an opportunity to keep yourself from reacting poorly to a situation that spirals you away from your center. Walk outside or into another room for a minute and take some long, deep breaths, or open a spiritual book and read a paragraph, or spent time by playing online poker to relax your mind.

The beauty of keeping a Sabbath — however and whenever you define it as such — is that a whole day of respite can’t help but give you the reset everyone needs.

3) Learn some quick breathing exercises

Yoga has a whole series of wonderful breathing practices that immediately connect you to your core. The simplest is known as “3-part breathing”:

  1. Slowly breathe deeply through the nose, filling up the abdomen, then the center of the chest, and, finally the collarbones.
  2. Exhale slowly in reverse order.
  3. Repeat a few times.

You can do this with your eyes closed on your couch, or eyes open on the school pickup line or the grocery checkout aisle.

4) Try family yoga.

Doing yoga with your children is different than doing it in a class full of focused adults, but it’s fun and beneficial in its own way, because there’s nothing like mindfully moving with someone you love.

Choose poses — found in books or online– that are age-appropriate for your children: easy animal imitations like cobra and lion if they’re little; more challenging twists and inversions if they’re older.

Make the practice fun, because joy offers another fast path to your center.

5) Envision them as you did at their birth

Remember the first time you held your beloved angel? Close your eyes for a moment and see him or her that way again. Notice how the love pours out of you as you do so. Your child now is still the same beloved angel, and inside you feel the same loving way.

No matter what your child is doing at any given moment — even if he or she just wrote on your newly painted walls or called you an unprintable name — try to conjure that “newborn” feeling as often as you can throughout the day.

6) Pass the pepper with love

If your children were kings or queens, religious leaders, or even rock stars, how would you serve them food, clean their clothes, or pass him or her condiments at dinner? Your children are more important to you than any of these figures, so why is it so easy to take them for granted?

Let that adoration you have for your child show itself in your mundane daily actions.

7) Find a passion that lights you up

“Indulging” your passion is crucial for parents. Doing something we love lights a spark inside of us, the glow from which falls on our family.

Find a passion you can do with your kids — collecting coins or shells, going to a ballet, whipping up an elaborate dessert… — or give yourself permission to occasionally go out solo to satisfy whatever gives you thrills.

8) Accept the perfection of each moment — and of your child

Judging something or someone as “bad” is the surest way to disconnect from our loving essence, but unfortunately our society encourages judgment all the time. “How was the movie?” “How was that restaurant?” Even, unbelievably, “Is your baby good?” — by which they mean sleeping through the night, as if an unhappy, uncomfortable baby isn’t a “good” one.

In truth, every moment — and every person in that moment — is perfect. A seedling frail enough to snap in a strong wind isn’t an imperfect oak tree. And a child who feels angry enough to break something rather than use words to describe intense feelings isn’t an imperfect person. Neither are we if we momentarily lose our cool when faced with such a child.

Accepting the perfection of a moment doesn’t mean we can’t guide our child. But do so knowing you are moving him or her from one perfect moment to another — a stance that shifts us internally from agitation to contentment, from beside ourselves to our united whole.

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Balance tip #1: Strive to be a Very Good Parent, not the best

“Evaluate balance over a full day or week, not every single moment. Instead of wanting to be the ‘best’ parent who has to do everything right, choose to be a ‘very good’ parent who sometimes makes mistakes and learns from them. Parents have to learn ‘on the job’ and should give themselves a break — figuratively and literally. Parenting is hard work!” ~ Attached at the Heart: Eight Proven Parenting Principles for Raising Connected and Compassionate Children by Barbara Nicholson & Lysa Parker

Learn 16 tried-and-true tips for maintaining your sense of balance as a parent in this definitive guide to Attachment Parenting written by API’s cofounders. Purchase your copy through the Amazon link above to have a portion of the proceeds benefit Attachment Parenting International (API).

10 tips for nurturing attachment during the holidays

pixabay-tips-for-attachment-parenting-during-holidaysThe holidays are an exciting time for children. The gifts, the lights, the decorations, the food, the family gathering — the list goes on and on. But in the hustle and bustle, it’s easy to lose sight of the values we want to pass down to our children, such as strengthening and maintaining a strong parent-child attachment.

Here are 10 tips to nurture attachment with our children during the holidays:

  1. You are the best gift“Living in a split-attention society, many children have rarely experienced the full, uninterrupted attention of a parent.” Stacy inspires us to give our children what they really want: Our time.
  2. Emphasize family time “The best present we are getting each other this year is time together.” Scylla encourages all of us to intentionally spend time together as a family in our annual holiday traditions.
  3. Santa or not, don’t use gifts as a bribe“Our family does Santa, but we don’t use him as a discipline tactic. The kids have no idea of the notion that they ‘must be good’ so Santa will come.” Sarah suggests that we keep the spirit of the holidays without any of the shame.
  4. Protect your child’s sleep“Don’t disrupt your normal sleep arrangements. If you normally cosleep, continue to do so.” Especially while traveling, Jasmine reminds us to continue nighttime parenting and safe infant sleep guidelines despite the holiday.
  5. Inspire the spirit of giving“For the first time ever, the school-aged children beamed with pride over the effort put into their gifts and the expectant joy when the receiver opened them. The emphasis was now on the making and giving rather than the receiving.” Judy offers a list of gifts that children of all ages can make and reclaim the spirit of the holidays.
  6. Rethink holiday treats“Many of my holiday memories revolve around food. Now that we are starting our own family traditions, I am trying to incorporate the fun and pleasure of holiday goodies without the overload of sugar. As a parent, it is my responsibility to nurture a taste for nutritious foods.” Dionna inspires us with tips to make holiday treats that are both special and healthier.
  7. Strive for balance“Especially going into the holidays, I find that it’s easy to lose days to errands, decorating, and purchasing presents. I get to the end of the day and feel like it was lost.” API Leader Sonya Feher reminds us to take some down time for ourselves.
  8. If you’re breastfeeding, take advantage“The holidays can be overwhelming to little ones, so time spent breastfeeding can be like a retreat. It’s a quick and easy way to reconnect and helps restore calm and reduce overstimulation. When I’m nursing, I also get the chance to sit down, put my feet up, and let some other folks do the work for a bit.” Amber encourages breastfeeding mothers to make the most of breastfeeding, both for their children and themselves, during the overstimulating holidays.
  9. Model discipline“Christmas can be a tricky season as far as discipline goes. There are presents stacked under the tree. There are cookies and sweets everywhere. There is constantly family, noise, and activity. It is very hard to stay disciplined ourselves, and it is the same for our children.” Jasmine reminds us to teach our children through example of how to navigate boundaries during the holidays.
  10. Plan on growth — “I resolve to practice positive discipline, not to spank or use rewards or punishments to coerce behavior.” Never big on making New Year resolutions, Christina explains why she had a change of heart.

Living a life of gratitude, a ‘walking meditation’

balance-and-emotional-responsivenessI’m trying to learn not to take anything for granted by feeling grateful for the little things of life, by living and appreciating each moment. It’s not easy to do and it takes a diligent and conscious daily effort — similar to meditation.

In mediation, our minds tend to wander. We could call it “monkey mind,” because we are constantly jumping from one thought to another. The act and discipline of meditation is training your mind to refocus on your breathing.

Learning to live a life of gratitude is like a “walking meditation,” being present in the moment, not worrying about the past or the future but really living in the now, feeling intensely grateful for the many blessing we have in our lives.

That doesn’t mean we don’t struggle, that doesn’t mean hurtful things won’t happen, but we can change how we react and perhaps even glean some valuable spiritual lessons.

The holidays always remind us of what is important — our family, our children, the welfare of others, and the beauty of the human spirit. Let’s continue our work together toward a more peaceful and compassionate world by creating peace in our own hearts and families. We may need to forgive ourselves or forgive others in order to begin to move forward. Maybe we need to begin by learning to live a life of gratitude.

May you always stay Attached at the Heart,

lysa parkerLysa Parker, cofounder of Attachment Parenting International and coauthor of Attached at the Heart

Cultivating a peaceful family: 5 effective ways to tend to one’s inner harmony

logo that hopefully doesnt change colorThere’s that saying you’ve probably heard — “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” I first saw it, framed, in the kitchen of my high school friend and it made me slightly afraid of her mom. It seemed like it had been hung there as a warning.

But parents, let’s be honest: We wake up a little sleep deprived from a late-night session catching up on a project, and the tension during breakfast is going to be thick.

On such mornings, I recognize this possibility looming in our kitchen when I notice how my daughter is looking at me. Just the other day, I caught that look and said with spatula in hand, “OK, yeah, I admit that I am too tired to be reliably nice this morning. Sorry in advance.”

“Breathe, Mama,” she reminds me, “I won’t fight today when you braid my hair.”

Here’s the thing: Our children are keenly tuned in to us. They know very well how to read the signs that serve as the early warning system indicating the likelihood of an impending mom-meltdown. Over time, they have become skilled at rating the level of threat like rangers adjusting those Smokey the Bear fire danger signs in the national forests: “Today’s Mom-fire threat level is Green.” (Whew, we’re OK.)

Your Brain on Stress

Researchers in the field of neuroscience are making exciting discoveries these days about the ways the body and mind are intimately connected. This gives us more insight into how it is that what we think and what thoughts we rehearse over and over actually change our brains. As our biochemistry is so changed, this has the power to affect the expression of our genes.

These findings also give us insight to why it is that when stress starts generating pressure and heat inside of us, our best intentions get vaporized.

The physiological responses that kept our ancestors safe do not help us in modern situations when we are not required to jump out of the way of a charging animal. What we perceive today as the danger that switches on our stress response is much different. Nonetheless, the nervous system still responds by shutting off the thinking and planning part of the brain — the prefrontal cortex — in order to send blood to the body so we can fight or run away.

But that is not a helpful response when it’s getting late in the morning and someone whines about losing their shoe or the garbage truck is blocking the driveway. While it might sharpen our reflexes so that we can deftly speed through traffic to get the kids to school, it is likely why the road rage happens since the part of our brains that inhibit undignified behavior is offline. (“Mom, you said a bad word to that guy!”)

Stress makes it more likely we will yell at our kids in spite of our best intentions to be the Zen-Mommy who guides her children serenely through the morning routine as if her mind is naturally infused with calming lavender essential oil. No parent wants to be the source of stress or bad times in the family, no matter how much responsibility, worry, or fatigue we are grappling with. But the truth is: When we get triggered, it affects our children. When that happens, we feel regret and add a black mark to our list of our failures.

harmony-balanceCreating Stress Resilience

What if there is a way to naturally achieve resilience to stress and to be easily able to access our inner resources? The good news is, it is not that hard to achieve the Sugar Land Integrated Counseling and Wellness teaches you how to take steps to give your inner life the attention required. Your family life will improve in delicious ways if you do.

We show up to the parenting journey carrying the baggage of our own histories: the fears, traumas, limiting beliefs, self-doubt, and those less-than-elegant, knee-jerk reaction tendencies. When the time comes to settle down, we unpack all that and then go about our business of creating a family.

If physical clutter in the home produces stress, how about all the emotional clutter of past regrets, hurts, sorrows, and traumas that we stuffed into the overfilled drawers of our minds? Imagine what a relief it would be to have the inner spaciousness that would allow us to breathe before we speak, or to listen mindfully so we can perceive the heart of the matter instead of reacting to what triggers us.

Fortunately, there are now several highly effective self-help techniques that are great tools to eliminate the internal clutter and create more emotional freedom and space, including these 5 effective ways to tend to one’s inner harmony for a happier home:

  1. Meditation — Research is finally catching up to the wisdom traditions that have long known the value of sitting quietly. Owing to the brain’s capacity to form new neural pathways, called neuroplasticity, scientists have found measurable differences in the brains of meditators. Higher brain functioning in the prefrontal cortex is enhanced, cortical tissue is made thicker — that’s really good — and parts of the brain that engender calm also become larger and more active. The good news for busy people is that according to the research, it is better to practice just a little each day versus half an hour every once in a while. Even taking just 1 minute every day to calm your physiology by taking mindful, slow breaths is going to help you. A dedicated meditation practice has the power to help you release burdens and create real calm.
  2. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) and Tapas Acupressure Technique (TAT) — Also known as Meridian Tapping, EFT is a form of counseling intervention. It is a powerful way you can dramatically reduce your suffering quickly. It consists of tapping with your fingers on specific acupuncture points on the head and torso. Research has shown that EFT causes lasting improvements by alleviating trauma physiology. Tapping has even been shown to cause immediate changes to blood chemistry, which is truly remarkable.  There are many resources on line to help you learn how to do EFT. TAT also engages the energy system of the body to release strong feelings, negative beliefs, and trauma. Unlike EFT, TAT does not require you to talk about what is bothering you.
  3. Yoga — It’s not just exercise. According to trauma researcher Bessel Van der Kolk, PhD, when practiced regularly, yoga can profoundly help heal trauma and stress, especially when practiced along with mindfulness meditation.
  4. The Forgiveness Challenge/Opportunity — Psychologist Jack Kornfield, PhD, describes how, when he was training to become a Buddhist monk, his teacher gave him the practice of spending 5 minutes forgiving someone, 2 times a day for 6 months. In my experience, this has been helpful to effectively get through all the emotions that an episode of forgiving requires. This powerful practice liberates one from the need to keep inventory of past betrayals and disappointments.

When we do the inner work of unburdening ourselves, we can show up for our families in a whole new way with more resilience to face the traffic and noise of daily life and better able to “be the peace” that makes home a safe haven where our children can thrive.

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